Hello, Alysers! I’m excited to write this in-depth reaction to Squid Game.
This K-drama series has taken the world by storm as it became Netflix’s most-watched show, reaching over 111 million viewers in the span of 28 days. It is bloody, graphic, and violent, but also incredibly addictive and binge-able. I watched all of the nine episodes in one sitting, and I am ready to share my thoughts. Do I think it deserves the hype? What makes it different from other shows? I’ll answer that and more in this post. Let’s get to it!
What is the story of Squid Game?
Squid Game follows the story of Seong Gi-Hun, a divorced chauffeur who is currently in-between jobs. The very first scenes established his character as a reckless gambler, which led to his indebtment towards loan sharks. Driven by his encounter with a mysterious man in the train station, he went on to join a tournament to play children’s games for the chance to win a large sum of money.
From then on, we are introduced to other characters who find themselves in the same predicament as Seong-Gi Hun. There’s his childhood friend Cho Sang-woo, North Korean defector Kang Sae-byeok, elderly Oh Il-nam, gangster Jang Deok-su, foreign worker Abdul Ali, and single mother Han Mi-nyeo. The series covers this group’s attempt at survival, as they find themselves among 455 other players fighting to win the cash prize at the cost of their lives.
The intricacy of Squid Game
My initial reaction to Squid Game was that it was like every other run-of-the-mill thriller show where the people have to kill each other for survival. We have seen plenty of movies and series like that through the years, like Hunger Games or Alice in Borderland. But I was soon proven wrong.
What makes Squid Game stand out from the pack is that it is set in real life. It doesn’t happen in an alternate dimension, nor is it post-apocalyptic. Instead, it is placed in modern-day South Korea, touching on societal issues and showing realities that are currently true to that context. It makes you think that somewhere out there, something like Squid Game could be happening.
The characters themselves are perfect representations of different groups of people in society. Seong Gi-hun represents the well-meaning yet financially illiterate lower class who wants the best for their family but seem to have no way out of their predicament. Cho Sang-woo is the successful rags-to-riches story that messed up somewhere along the way. Kang Sae-byeok shows the reality of defectors who struggle to have a better life in South Korea. Abdul Ali reflects the plight of immigrants, who are constantly abused, given minimal wage, and taken for granted. And then there are people like the VIPs, who are significantly out of touch with the pains of everyday living and see life as one big game.
Capitalism and corruption
It was particularly interesting to watch how the show portrayed capitalism, especially during this time when the pandemic exacerbated the gap between the wealthy and the poor. For the past months, billionaires have been the subject of criticism as they squandered millions of dollars away on unnecessary space trips. Meanwhile, their own workers struggled to earn enough money to get through the day. Squid Game excellently reflects this tension when the Western VIPs came in at episode 7 and lavishly flaunted their gold and jewelry while watching the contestants fight for their lives. Although the casting of the VIPs could have been done better (I found their acting rather cringe-worthy), the essence behind their existence remains.
The contrast was stark: on the one hand, we have the contestants who were literally putting everything on the line just to survive. On the other hand, there were the VIPs who had everything in the world, yet they seemed to have lost the essence of human life. That Squid Game managed to capture this so well is amazing to me. When we think of it that way, no one really won. In some way, money corrupted everyone.
It’s also interesting to think that hundreds could just disappear like that without anyone questioning their disappearance. The show implied that the tournament had been going on for years. This means that the VIPs have always gotten away with it. Perhaps, their ties with high authority figures or the amount of money they had were enough to keep people from asking questions.
This can be likened to modern society, where rich criminals who run trafficking rings are able to run free while poor criminals who stole money to pay for their meals are immediately locked up and put on trial. Squid Game successfully interweaves and unravels this narrative, especially in the last few episodes.
The mind-blowing plot twists
I have to be honest; the last three episodes had me in for a spin. To say that I was surprised by all the plot twists would be an understatement. I knew that a show like this would kill people off. However, I wasn’t prepared for how frequently they were going to do it in this show. And while some deaths may have seemed poetic, like that of Ji-yeong‘s, I found others to be anti-climactic.
Spoiler alert: I think Sae-byeok deserved a much better send-off than what she got. The whole scene seemed rushed. As an audience member, I didn’t feel as if I had enough time to process the pain of her loss. In fact, she as a character just deserved better. And I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who feels this way. The outpouring of love on Jung Jo-yeon, the actress who played Sae-byeok, after the show proves this, but that’s another story.
I am glad that after everything, Sang-woo was able to receive his redemption arc. In contrast, I was heartbroken, angered, and all kinds of confused when Il-nam suddenly came back alive. He quickly went from being one of the most beloved characters to being the most hated one.
The implications of the ending
After everything that happened, I didn’t know what to expect in the ending. The eighth episode ended on such a somber note that I didn’t think a happy wrap-up could have been possible.
With that said, I did appreciate how the last episode empathetically captured the reality of trauma. For a whole year, Gi-hun was unable to touch any of the money that he won because of the guilt. Some questioned why he didn’t help Sae-byeok’s brother or Sang-woo’s mother immediately. However, his inability to do so showed how much he struggled emotionally, mentally, and psychologically. He was in no position to help himself, so how could he help other people?
We can once again trace this back to the role of money in this series. Gi-hun realized that it didn’t matter how much money he had if he didn’t have loved ones to share it with. He also couldn’t enjoy the money knowing that it cost the lives of hundreds of others. He only began to heal once he had closure.
This speaks to many other people who may have had to go through survivor’s guilt or any other form of trauma. Healing takes time. It’s impressive that Squid Game was able to include this theme, even amidst all the societal issues it tackled.
However, other elements in the ending made me feel a little confused. For instance, I don’t really know what Gi-hun’s red hair has to do with anything. He also didn’t board the plane going to his daughter because he prioritized the game once again. I suppose that the next season will show the reasons for these artistic decisions.
Squid Game is one of the few shows that successfully elicited a meaningful reaction from me. It made me pause and think about the more significant meaning behind the show. Furthermore, the casting was well-done, and every character had a purpose in the grand scheme of things. It deserves the hype.
However, I do have reservations about calling it the best show in the world. For one, the acting of the VIPs really put me off. There were also scenes that they could have tackled better, like the death of Sae-byeok. Nonetheless, it deserves the recognition it is getting, as it brings attention to social injustices, not just in South Korea but globally. It reminds us all that while the COVID pandemic may have isolated some realities, our underlying struggles are still interwoven as humanity.
Do you agree with my reaction? What about you? What’s your reaction to Squid Game?
Let us know in the comments section below!
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